For the first time in Waterford’s history, the high school culinary team won the state championship, and will compete in the national tournament in Baltimore.
“It was so exciting,” said team member Holly Leal, recounting the victory on February 3rd. “(Fellow teammate Kourtney Stoy) and I were just looking at each other crying.”
The team is composed of five students: Stoy, Leal, Moriah Shafer, Angelica Sonnema and Matthew Henn. For the competition the five went to the Lincoln Culinary Institution in Shelton, where they first had to demonstrate various knife skills, and then made a three-course meal.
“We were judged on everything,” Stoy said. “Taste, our preparation, presentation, how we packaged our food, how sanitized we were, everything.”
All five students are part of the ProStart program at Waterford High, a two-year program for high school students to prepare them for a career in the food industry. The competition further prepares students for that career, ProStart teacher Cornelia Montanaro said.
“ProStart competitions have given my students opportunities and learning experiences outside of the classroom that will prepare them for future successes in the culinary and hospitality industry,” Montanaro said.
The ProStart program is a national two-year program created by the National Restaurant Association. Waterford is one of just a handful of schools in the state that offer it, Montanaro said.
For the competition, the students had to make a three-course meal on two butane burners. The Waterford team, after much discussion, decided to make an arugula and radicchio salad with an apricot vinaigrette for an appetizer, roasted pork tenderloin with a root beer reduction for an entrée and a poached autumn pear for dessert.
The team has met once a week since September, finally deciding on their recipes in November. Since, the group has been practicing the same appetizer, entrée and desert over, and over, and over.
“We all know exactly what to do,” Stoy said. “And we all know what everybody else is supposed to do, so if somebody needs help we'll help them.”
Stoy and Shafer, both seniors, are both committed to going to Johnson and Wales University next year. They are trying to convince Leal, who is a junior, to follow their path; and the three plan on opening a bakery together one day.
Sonnema remains unsure about her future, while Henn either wants to go into biology or teach culinary arts. Henn also said while there are some benefits of being the one guy on the team, there are some downfalls as well.
“The bus rides are very long,” Henn said.
“They are only two hours!” Leal said.
“It feels like a longer ride,” Henn said.
The five did not all know each other going into it, but now Leal describes the team as “best friends.” They also praised their mentor and hero, Montanaro.